Reef Citizen Science Hands-on learning trumps facts to encourage reef stewardship

Citizen Science programs have been growing in popularity over the last decade as a way to collect more data across a much broader area – but a team of researchers at The University of Queensland working with organisations in the Reef Citizen Science Alliance have discovered some other big bonuses...

Not only do they generate data about our reefs, but citizen science programs can also positively influence stewardship.

ReefBlitz 2017 participants on Great Keppel Island. Photo: Shelly McArdle.

The study surveyed participants of the annual ReefBlitz citizen science event. The series of events across Queensland brings together diverse coastal and marine programs to collect a snapshot of important indicators of reef health and highlight how the community can help the reef.

Dr Angela Dean from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) said the findings are encouraging for citizen science projects and are relatable to other programs.

“Getting outside and involved in citizen science projects is potentially an empowering experience, but there was next to no data about how it affects participants,” said Dr Dean.
“We found that more than half of people attending a reef citizen science event were likely to adopt a new behaviour to help reefs.
Seagrass Watch team, Wynnum, QLD.
“Surprisingly, when we looked at what parts of the experience led to this, we found that it wasn’t learning facts about reefs – we found that learning about facts alone made people less likely to take action for reefs.
“What did work was allowing people to see what the problems are, and showing them how to do something about it. So it is important we make reef issues and solutions real for people, rather than just throwing facts.”
ReefBlitz participants birdwatching on Lady Elliot Island, 2017. Photo: Gary Cranitch.

ReefBlitz is an annual event that brings together multiple citizen science programs to help Queensland communities collect a snapshot of information relevant to reef health.

In 2016, members of the Reef Citizen Science Alliance actively engaged more than 1,600 participants to collect more than 28,000 pieces of data through activities along the coast of Queensland.

ReefBlitz will be held again in 2018, with lots of events for International Year of the Reef. For more information visit www.reefblitz.com

Left: A ReefBlitz team in 2016. Photo: Styledia. Right: A volunteer surveys coral. Photo: Jennifer Loder.

Jennifer Loder, Coordinator of the Reef Citizen Science Alliance, says this research highlights the valuable role of citizen science programs as a pathway to help more people look after Queensland’s reefs.

“Citizen science organisations see first-hand the power of programs all the time, for both for science and for citizens,” she said.
"But research like this is critical to build a broader understanding about the positive outcomes.”

Media: Angela Dean, a.dean@uq.edu.au; CEED Communications, Casey Fung, c.fung@uq.edu.au, 0433 638 643.

Dr Angela Dean and Jennifer Loder

The research team included CEED, The University of Queensland, and Reef Citizen Science Alliance members. ReefBlitz 2016 was delivered by Great Barrier Reef Citizen Science Alliance member organisations and partners including CoralWatch, Fitzroy Partnership for River Health, Great Barrier Reef Legacy, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's Eye on the Reef, Healthy Land and Water, Mangrove Watch, Project Manta, Red Map, Reef Check Australia, Tangaroa Blue Foundation, and Wildlife Queensland Coastal Citizen Science. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation and Boeing are founding partners of ReefBlitz and the Great Barrier Reef Citizen Science Alliance. The 2016 event was also funded by Queensland Government, Orica, and Qantas. The Reef Citizen Science Alliance is now hosted by Conservation Volunteers Australia. ReefBlitz2018 will be held in International Year of the Reef.

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